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Visuals in your writing: A short guide

A short guide to visuals in your writing

1. Always give a clear indicative title

The title needs to indicate content. It does not need to be eye-catching.

example of visual with caption

2. Save the reader’s time by being specific

Make sure that any reference to percentages always includes the specific number referred to eg, ‘25% of what?’. The normal shorthand is N= number. For instance, N=93 (where the study refers to 93 respondents). Label both the X and Y axes of a graph, so it is completely clear what is being shown in graphical format.

example  of graph with clearly marked axes

3. Keep it simple

If you try to get graphs and charts to do too much, you can easily end up with an overcomplicated mess. Several clear charts are always better than one overcomplicated chart.

example of simple graph






In terms of simplicity, a table can sometimes be just as effective as a graph or chart, as the following example shows.

table of results


4. Do the figures and tables agree with the text?

It might sound an obvious point. But always make sure that your tables and charts are created from the final version of the data, so that they are current and completely consistent with the text. The aim is to illustrate and simplify, and not confuse.


5. Refer to work in the text

When you have gone to a lot of trouble to create tables and figures, it is important to make sure that you use them effectively. So always refer directly to the figure, for instance: ‘Figure 7, above, suggests that...’ ‘Table 4, page 19, is a powerful argument for...’ ‘Figure 17, over page, provides clear evidence that...’ 

6. Learn about the technical aspects of inserting images

Writing academic text with lots of pictures will often cause layout challenges. Copying figures and charts from one source and pasting them into a Word document can be tricky. If you are not competent in this area, do consider learning from websites such as the Microsoft site, eHow (2014) or simply by looking on YouTube. The University Digital and Technology Skills Team also run courses for students.

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